There’s a pandemic out there killing people.
What can your nonprofit organization do to offer a remedy?
Kill ‘ em with kindness.
I’m talking about your supporters, of course.
In order for people to do good they have to feel good.
Seriously, philanthropy takes energy. It takes the ability to step out of one’s day-to-day grind and think about someone, or something, else. And it’s more difficult than usual for folks to find this generous space right now.
You can help.
Make this the giving season.
I often say “If you want gifts you must give them.”
Maya Angelou says “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
Let’s talk about what you can give – as nonprofit staff and board — to create happier supporters.
Notice a lot of folks saying “2020 is a bad year?” People can use a bit of cheer. They’re tired of doom and gloom.
Remember when “random acts of kindness” was a thing? People would buy a coffee for the person behind them in line. Or they’d pay the bridge toll for the next car. Their reward was simply imagining the unexpected delight their gift would give to someone that day. Ever have it happen to you? Ever try it?
Now’s your chance!
I’d like to suggest practicing some creative planned (not random) acts of kindness.
Something to bring your donors and volunteers a bit of good cheer. It can be as simple as letting them know what they did to change someone’s life for the better. Or it can be a modest, human gesture showing them how grateful you are for their support. This is something you can have fun with. And the rewards will be huge, both for you and your donors.
10 Acts of Donor Kindness For a Pandemic, and Beyond
These are just a few ideas to get you started brainstorming your own. Some you can do any time. Some are particularly adaptable to the socially-distanced times we’re in. Begin by thinking about what you might do – or are presently doing – with your own family, friends and neighbors. Then simply extend the favor to your supporters.
After all, donors are people too.
1. Home-Baked Treats
I love to bake. So, early on in my career as a development director, I decided to secretly deliver plates of home-baked cookies to each of my planned giving donors. I chose a day, motored myself around the city in the early morning hours, and left the cookies on their doorsteps with a little note of thanks. Pure delight on both of our parts! Sadly (or fortunately) my list of planned gift donors grew over time, and expanded geographically, to the point where I could no longer engage in this particular activity. But I did continue to bake cookies and gift them to my donors whenever they made a particularly meaningful commitment.
TODAY I’m gifting cookies and scones to my neighbors for birthdays, graduations, anniversaries and… just for no reason at all! Don’t worry. I wear gloves and a mask, and drop on their doorstep to stay socially distanced. You can do the same with some of your major donors.
2. Store-Bought Treats
I told one of my current clients about how I used to deliver baked goodies. The Executive Director of this organization supporting access to free and low-cost legal services loved the idea, but wasn’t a baker. So, guess what she did? She bought a bunch of miniature Ghirardelli chocolate bars she found on sale, put them in a tin with a red ribbon, added a note (“Just thinking of how you make life sweeter for the people we work with together. Sweets For the sweet! Thank you.”), and delivered them to the law firms who supported them. Feedback was instant, and helped open the door for future in-person visits.
TODAY I’m having thoughtful gifts delivered to folks who can use a little pick-me-up. I recently ordered a big quart of chicken soup delivered to a fellow board member who’d contracted Covid-19 (she’s recovered, thank goodness). It just felt like the caring thing to do, right? Why not do this with some of your major donors?
3. Home-Made Gifts
A colleague of mine, many years ago, knew I delivered cookies. She didn’t bake, but she did can fruits and veggies. So she began hand-delivering jars of jam. I knew someone else who delivered cuttings from their plants to donors they knew appreciated gardening. What’s great about these particular acts of kindness are (1) they’re personal, and (2) they don’t appear expensive.
TODAY there are still plenty of personal, inexpensive gifts you can bestow. What are your hobbies, and how might they translate to a gift? I know someone who paints; she gave people little hand-painted postcards with subject matter tied to their interests and/or personalities. Very thoughtful. I know someone else who simply cut-up magazines and sent little collage cards to folks. You could also send a quick homemade video from your phone, or even just a photo you took. Get creative.
4. Celebration Cards
I collect donor birthdays. I especially collect board and committee member birthdays. When folks join you, send them a form where they have an opportunity to indicate their date of birth (tell them it’s okay to leave off the year). Whenever you hear a major donor talking about a lifecycle event (e.g., birthday, wedding anniversary, graduation, retirement), simply make a note in your database and calendar. You can even celebrate the anniversary of your donor’s first gift to you. Then, just like Starbucks, give them a little celebration treat! You can have cards printed to use precisely for this purpose (extra meaningful if you use hand-created art from clients, even if it’s paw prints!), or you can simply purchase a bunch of store greeting cards to have on hand. Whatever you send, make sure you handwrite the note and the address so it’s super personal. Don’t just sign your name to a Hallmark card and slap on a printed label. Put some thought and effort into it, please!
TODAY you can mail a card or even email or text a celebratory greeting. I prefer the mail, even today, as it’s more likely to get opened and noticed. Plus it’s likely to hang around longer, reminding your donor of your thoughtful act.
5. Hand-Picked News Articles
There are two ways I used to send hand-picked news to individual donors, based on what I knew floated their particular boat.
- Sometimes it would be an article I spotted in a magazine or newspaper. When I started out, I’d clip it (or copy it) and send it in an envelope. Toward the end of my career in the trenches I could send an electronic link.
- Sometimes it would be an article in our organizations newsletter. Even though I knew they received the newsletter in the mail, I liked to highlight it for them with a note letting them know I thought they might find it of particular interest.
TODAY you can alert donors to articles of interest too. Besides being ‘gifts,’ these actions provide the opportunity to later check in with these donors to see what reactions they had.
6. ‘How To’ Worksheets or Videos
One of my favorite gifts costs absolutely nothing. Simply share tips and ‘how-to’s’ based on your organization’s area of expertise. I call these little ‘gifts of useful content.’
- How to Baby Proof Your Home
- How to Keep Parents Safe at Home
- How to Save the Environment
- How to Efficiently Recycle
- How to Spot Signs of Abuse
- How to Entertain Kids on Rainy Days
- How to Be Kind to Pets
TODAY you can offer helpful content particularly suited for navigating the times we’re in. This might include actions people can take to advocate on behalf of your cause or the populations you serve.
7. Invitations to Free Events
This has long been a smart donor cultivation strategy. No doubt you’ve hosted an open house, donor or volunteer recognition event, behind-the-scenes tour, ice cream social, expert panel, celebrity speaker or some variation on such theme.
TODAY you can host a virtual free event.
- Arts organizations are sharing free presentations of past recorded performances.
- Zoos, aquariums, museums and environmental organizations are hosting behind-the-scenes virtual tours of animals, fish, art and nature.
- Social justice organizations are hosting online town halls or telephone conference calls.
- Schools are offering online talks by educators.
- Nonprofits of all stripes are offering live Zoom Q&As.
- Some nonprofits are using Zoom to allow their supporters to network using the break-out room function – something I love as it enables you to build community even in the midst of a pandemic.
8. Hand Written Thank You Notes
Almost no one receives handwritten mail today, so it’s super special. It shows you took time, and makes your donor feel special. So how about writing a little card as a second thank you? Get the ‘official’ acknowledgment out within 24 – 48 hours; then ask someone else in the organization to write a personal note. Maybe the letter came from the development staff, and the note comes from the executive director or board chair. Or vice-versa. Or maybe the note comes from the program director if the gift was directed to a particular area. Or maybe the note simply comes from a board member or other volunteer.
TODAY is a great time to ask board volunteers to send personal notes to supporters. They likely have more time on their hands, and you’re probably not meeting in person as a board right now. This is something concrete they can do. Don’t be shy asking them. Inevitably when I’m called to consult with an organization staff tell me “board won’t do anything” and board tell me “staff never asks us to do anything.” Ask!
9. Thank You Calls
You should actually be doing this as the norm. At least with first-time donors and donors over a particular dollar amount (that amount will depend on your organization and your bandwidth for making calls). Especially since Penelope Burk, author of “Donor-Centered Fundraising,” provides us with nearly two decades of research telling us being thanked promptly and personally is the number one thing donors care about! If you haven’t yet grabbed this free Thank You Calls E-Book from me, please do!
TODAY I’d suggest thank you calls make more sense than ever. First, people are isolated and lonely; your call may be particularly welcome. Second, more people are at home and may be more likely to accept your call; what a wonderful opportunity to have a real conversation and maybe get to know your donor better. Also, you don’t need to wait until a donor makes a current gift. If they gave in January, especially if it was a major gift, you can still call today to check in, see how they’re doing, and let them know how much their support means to you. There are also services that let you make a quick personal thank you video, suitable for email or text.
10. Gift of Recognition
People need to be thanked; they love to be recognized. The difference is subtle, yet important. Recognition goes beyond ‘thank you’ and offers the gift of special notice or attention. It’s akin to the maître d’ at your local restaurant recognizing you by name when you walk in. Or the receptionist at the doctor’s office saying “Hi Claire” as I go to check in at the front desk. It makes you feel accepted, appreciated and known. It bestows a warm feeling.
TODAY there are numerous ways to bestow recognition and make people feel noticed by you. It may be retweeting something they post on social media. Or asking to join them on LinkedIn or follow them on Facebook. It may be asking if you can interview them for an article in your newsletter, or perhaps a podcast or video you’ll share on your website. It may simply mean giving them direct contact information of someone in your organization to whom they can direct questions. Having ‘their own person’ recognizes their importance to you; they’re not one of the anonymous masses.
It’s the Thought That Counts
Think about what you might do to delight someone in the weeks ahead.
Another way to frame this is by taking a page from customer experience guru John Goodman, author of Strategic Customer Service, who talks about delivering “Psychic Pizza.” What if someone showed up right now with an unexpected gift of pizza? You can do the same thing for your donors by delivering them something that they want – or will likely appreciate — before they ask for it.
Don’t just do what people expect.
You’ll get a bigger bang for your buck when you really delight your supporters. It’s like the difference between searching for and finding that “perfect” holiday gift for someone, vs. buying just “something” from a catalogue at the last minute or giving a gift card. When you simply do the minimum you must do, it’s unlikely to have the WOW factor that makes your donor:
- Warm, fuzzy and filled with the joy of giving.
- Open to engaging more with you.
- Want to give again.
For a donor to feel “Wow! That was so nice. I never expected that, and actually feel I’m getting more out of this than I’m giving,” you need to come at the process of acknowledgement and stewardship from the perspective of ‘can,’ not ‘must.’
How about some planned acts of kindness with your donors? They deserve it!
If you’re doing anything like this, please share. We can learn from each other!
Want More Creative Ways to Thank Donors?
Grab my How To Cultivate An Attitude Of Gratitude And Keep Your Donors with 72 ‘thank you’ ideas for you to steal – plus much, much more on the process of channeling an attitude of gratitude to retain and upgrade your supporters. It’s everything I’ve learned about sustaining donor relationships over the years, all tucked it into one handy no-nonsense guide on the practice of gratitude.
As with all Clairification products, it comes with a no-questions-asked, 30-day, 100% refund guarantee. You can’t lose.
Images by me, and one from Elizabeth Lemos from Pixabay
Fine tips, Claire — thank you!